Thursday, 11 August 2011

A Tax On Gullibility

In the last week of freedom before I return to college, I have been watching a lot of daytime television, while sat on my sofa in my dressing gown, eating cereal. The target audience for the adverts should feel insulted: payday loans, bingo sites, body lotions that make you want to get nekkid, and house cleaning products. Welcome to bored housewife hell.

One advert that's grated on me since first seeing it earlier this year is for the Dettol No-Touch Hand Wash System, which "helps stop the spread of bacteria, even as its [sic] dispensed".

The premise is that we touch the pumps of liquid soap dispensers before washing our hands, obviously, so these pumps harbour "hundreds of bacteria" (only hundreds? Shurely shome mishtake...). So if we make the dispensers hands-free, then they won't have all these nasty germs (I hate that word, and fine my A2 students £1 for saying it in an immunological context) on them. Great - we can even charge £5 for it (incidentally, my regular antibacterial handwash costs about £1.50).

Except, as was pointed out in The Hard Sell, you're about to wash your hands! Dettol proudly claim to "kill 99.9% of bacteria", so wouldn't their fabulous soap take care of 99.9% of those "hundreds"?

And of course, no one has considered that the taps are also covered with "hundreds of bacteria". You go to the sink to wash your hands. You turn the tap on, you wet your hands, you pump soap onto them, you lather, you rinse your hands, you touch the tap again to turn it off. So you're touching "germy" taps, after you have cleaned your hands. So it's bugger all use even if you use Dettol No-Touch, because you're about to get more bacteria all over your hands.

Anyway, I sit firmly in the A-Little-Bit-Of-Microbes-Is-Fine camp. I'm reasonably sure there are papers out confirming that dirt- and microbe-free existences are in all likelihood responsible for increasing allergies in children. And though I will never have children whose immune system I need to monitor, I'm still not changing my "germy hand pump" for one that costs three times as much for exactly 0% more protection against bacteria.


  1. I'd like to see you discuss your views on anti-bacterial soap. Over the past few years, I've become convinced that resistant bacteria are the most realistic end-of-the-world scenario and have tried to cut back on my use of antibiotics and other things that unnecessarily kill bacteria.

  2. There is probably something in that. However, I suspect that antibiotics are far more dangerous in that respect than antibacterial soap. As far as I am aware, antibacterial soap is a broad biocide - it kills in a number of different ways. It's the more specific antibiotics that attack individual molecules in the plasma membrane of one type of bacterium that have more potential for one single mutation to render the drugs ineffective.

    And the problem is not actually killing bacteria, but not killing all the bacteria. Mild doses of antibiotic, or failing to finish a course of antibiotics, or indeed having antibiotics prescribed for a viral infection, are more likely to leave only the strongest or the most resistant.

    In the meantime, if you don't take antibiotics when you have a bacterial infection, and if you don't wash your hands thoroughly when you've been to the toilet, then you are a walking cesspit of potential infection. I presume you have heard of Typhoid Mary?


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